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The Newcomer

It was the kind of winter that could break a man’s soul. The kind that just wouldn’t let go.

Blake feared it would break the whole company.

They should have been in Oregon by October, but a September squall stranded them in Hopeless Valley for two weeks. There hadn’t been more than a couple days’ lull in the bluster since.

And now, with April already two weeks gone , the Montana sky hung heavy with yet another snow storm building from the west. The men were like as not to go their separate ways once they finally broke camp.

Blake had known that since old Gus died in December. He had been their heart and soul.

But there was still one hope left. It all hinged on how Foster made out in Beaverton.

“What you looking for, Blake?” Stanton bumped shoulders with his boss, breaking Blake’s reverie as he watched dusky evening shadows gobble the eastern skyline.

“Just wondering what tomorrow will bring,” Blake said.

Stanton huffed. “More bad news, most like.” He shuffled off toward the campfire where a few other men had already gathered. The smell of beans filled the air, just like every other night.

And if Foster had any luck at all in town, they’d be stuck eating beans for awhile longer. It was the best outcome Blake could imagine.

The wagon shimmered out of the growing darkness before Blake even realized it was there, and he hurried to greet it. Foster slowed the horse to a trot and Blake fell in alongside, talking as he walked.

“Did you get it?” he asked.

Foster kept his eyes trained on the ground in front of him, but his smirk told the story.

“You did!” Blake shouted. “You got it!”

Foster couldn’t hold back his emotions, and he burst into giddy laughter. “Only cost me a wagon full of oats and firewood.”

“Well worth it, I say,” Blake said. “We’ll be on the move again soon enough, anyway.”

Foster pulled the wagon to a stop feet from the fire. The other men had heard them talking.

“Who you kidding, Skip?” Stanton asked Blake, using the nickname that had started as a show of respect but had slid into mockery. “There’s more snow coming, probably tonight. And did I hear you say that Foster here sold a big hunk of our supplies for some magic beans?”

The other men gathered around, several of them grunting, almost growling.

“You’re half right,” Foster said, hopping down from the seat. He opened one flap of his jacket and slid out a squirming ball of fur.

“A puppy!” one of the men exclaimed.

“He looks just like old Gus!” another chimed in.

Foster cleared his throat. “She looks just like old Gus,” he corrected.

Stanton elbowed his way to the front of the gaggle. “Well, I say,” he began, and silence fell over the group. He was a hothead, a loudmouth, and he commanded attention whether he deserved it or not. “I say … she’s going to need somewhere to sleep. I think I have room under my blanket … you know, just until the weather warms up.”

He took the pup gingerly from Foster’s arms, but soon the other men were jostling each other to get their paws on the newcomer.

Foster stepped away from the fray and stood beside Blake. “Well, Skip,” he said, pointing to the blackening western sky, “I reckon we’ll be able to weather that storm.”

Blake smiled. In the circle of men, the puppy was taking turns handing out kisses. “I reckon we will, at that, Foster.”

Published inFlash Fiction

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